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Bloody wars were fought on their doorstep, there was the turmoil of religious reformation, the rise of the Scottish Enlightenment and industrial revolution, daring feats of exploration, bitter strikes, suffrage campaigns, and scientific breakthroughs.

 

The Herald: Miss Barrie's Junior 3 class, 1942Miss Barrie’s Junior 3 class, 1942 (Image: The High School of Glasgow)

While Glasgow grew to become the second city of the Empire fuelled by money from colonies, hailed for its shipbuilding skills, art, design, culture but with its deep poverty and slums, the school’s pupils would march to war, head for high office and high courts, become academics, scientists, politicians, religious leaders and captains of industry.

As ancient as Edinburgh Castle, Scotland’s oldest school is now marking an incredible 900 years of existence with a year-long programme of celebrations bringing together past and present staff, pupils and parents.

Events planned for the High School of Glasgow’s 900th anniversary include a gala event at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall in June, a 900km sponsored cycle from Devon to the city centre in September, a major art exhibition and sporting showcase involving current and former pupils.

Last month, pupils from the Junior and Senior schools rolled up their uniform sleeves to plant 900 trees across Cathkin Braes – a living legacy of the school’s momentous anniversary year.

And next month will bring a Civic Reception at Glasgow City Chambers, a mere stone’s throw from Glasgow Cathedral where the school’s roots were laid down 900 years earlier.

One of the most poignant events planned for the celebrations will be an anniversary commemorative and thanksgiving service at the Cathedral in September.

That will reflect on a mind-boggling nine centuries of education in the city: it was there that in 1124 the Sang School, or choir school, for boys was established.

From there, the first steps were taken on a meandering road leading to today’s two campuses, the Junior School and Kindergarten in Bearsden, with its 281 pupils, and the Senior School in Anniesland, with 661.

The Herald: Senior pupils' assembly at the High School of Glasgow's Old Anniesland buildingSenior pupils’ assembly at the High School of Glasgow’s Old Anniesland building (Image: The High School of Glasgow)

To have survived for nine centuries is impressive enough.

But it’s all the more remarkable given that on several occasions the school might well have disappeared forever.

Its long history begins in the era of David 1 and an age of religious and social upheaval which saw the establishment of Glasgow Cathedral – the oldest cathedral in mainland Scotland, and Glasgow’s oldest building – and its Sang School, or choir school, where boy choristers provided musical accompaniment to religious services and studied the scriptures.


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Founded in 1124  the school was at the very heart of Scottish life: monasteries, abbeys and cathedrals of the time were the centre of learning and culture, and the Church held considerable influence over the monarch and nobility.

Although most Scots lived and worked in rural areas, trade with Europe was growing and towns like Edinburgh, Stirling and Glasgow began to emerge as important centres of commerce.

 

The Herald: Lessons at the school's Anniesland buildingLessons at the school’s Anniesland building (Image: The High School of Glasgow)

While change swept through the country, the school carried on.

It withstood the turbulent times of the 13th and early 14th centuries, when the Bishop of Glasgow Robert Wishart’s support for William Wallace and Robert the Bruce in their fight for Scottish independence could have put it in the firing line.

The school remained at the Cathedral until a directive from Pope Nicholas V in 1451 led to the establishment of the University of Glasgow.

It was saved when buildings and lands were being endowed to the city by the church, allowing its move to Grey Friar’s Wynd – or ‘Grammar School Wynd’ – just off the city’s High Street.

The city at the time was rapidly growing; its population of around 2,000 at the start of the century was ballooning, and although the church retained a grip on Scottish life, new trade, laws and social structures demanded improved education.

The Sang School became Glasgow Grammar School, and lessons expanded to prepare boys for life in the late Middle Ages.

By the 1570s – the era of Mary, Queen of Scots – its buildings were showing their age, with concern expressed in burgh records over its poor state and instructions for it to be made ‘watter fast’.

Not for the first or last time the school would face an uncertain future. Eventually a new building was constructed, funded in part thanks to 400 marks bequeathed to the University of Glasgow by ‘Hary the porter of the College’.

It remained at Greyfriar’s Wynd until 1782, spanning the Act of Union in 1707, Jacobite uprisings, James Watt’s invention of the steam engine and the age of Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and Adam Smith.

The Herald: First XV Glasgow High School FP 1896-97First XV Glasgow High School FP 1896-97 (Image: The High School of Glasgow)

Among its former pupils were Crimean War Field Marshall Colin Campbell, 1st Baron Clyde (1792-1863), who commanded the Highland Brigade at the Battle of Alma.

His ‘thin red line of Highlanders’ repulsed the Russian attack on Balaclava, before he went on to become Commander in Chief of India, playing a key role in bringing the siege of Lucknow to a bloody conclusion.

And Lieutenant General Sir John Moore (1761-1809) whose statue stands in George Square in recognition of his long list of battle honours.

The Scottish Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution demanded improved education, and the school was renamed The High School of Glasgow with lessons reflecting demand for chemists, scientists, medics and engineers.

Education systems were changing too. The Education Scotland Act of 1872 introduced compulsory schooling that would give the nation a world-leading reputation for education.

But once again, the school’s crumbling buildings sparked concern. Now under authority of the Glasgow School Board, there were warnings that they were “far from suitable for the Grammar School of so great a city.”

 

School assembly at Elmbank Street (Image: The High School of Glasgow)

Its future hung in the balance until Glasgow Academy vacated its Elm Bank Street building, paving the way for the High School to move in.

It would remain there for a century.

Among the remarkable stories from the school at the time was a daring bid in 1879 to field a team of pupils in the newly founded Scottish Football Association’s tournament, the Scottish Cup. They were defeated in the second round, losing 4-1 to Possilpark.

By now grand exhibitions were showcasing manufacturing, engineering, science and culture; wealthy industrialists were on the rise, and the shipyards of the Clyde churned out the world’s greatest ships.

Women like Isabella Elder, whose husband John was a former High school pupil and owner of a successful marine engineering business, were becoming powerful figures.

His death saw her become a leading philanthropist and supporter of women’s education: proof women also deserved opportunities to thrive.

An offshoot, The Glasgow High School for Girls, was founded in 1894 and produced extraordinary pupils such as Catherine Roy.

 

The Herald: Former High School for Girls pupil Catherine RoyFormer High School for Girls pupil Catherine Roy (Image: High School of Glasgow)

Born in 1883, she was among 50 nurses sent to France with the British Expeditionary Force at the outbreak of the First World War to treat wounded and sick soldiers.  She went on to receive the Military Medal for gallantry.

And former High School pupil Mary Macarthur (1880-1921) a suffragist who fought for equal pay and better rights for women.

Among those who surely benefited from her efforts was former pupil Mary Sherrard (1923-2020). She made the journey from local paper journalist to Bletchley Park where she deciphered  German codes.

The reorganisation of education by Strathclyde Regional Council in the mid-1970s saw Glasgow High School for Girls became Cleveden Secondary while, again,  the High School for Boys was under threat of closure.

 

The Herald: Former pupil Mary Sherrard who worked at Bletchley Park during WW2Former pupil Mary Sherrard who worked at Bletchley Park during WW2 (Image: Courtesy of The Southern Reporter)

Determined to save it, former pupils raised the equivalent of £4m in today’s money, enabling a merger with Drewsteignton School in Bearsden and the creation of a ‘new’ fee-paying independent co-ed school which retained 12th century roots but in a purpose-built building at Old Anniesland.

Former pupils include comedian Susan Calman, broadcaster Murial Gray and television journalist Fyfe Robertson.

Political alumni include Glasgow Cathcart Tory MP Sir Teddy Taylor, SNP politician Iain MacCormick, whose father, John, was one of the party’s founders, and current Labour MP for Brent North, Barry Gardiner.

Liberal Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman was Prime Minister from 1905 to 1908 and Andrew Bonar-Law served as a Conservative Prime Minister from October 1922 to May 1923.

The school has also produced three Moderators of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, and in the 15th century, William Elphinstone, became Bishop of Aberdeen and founder of Aberdeen University.

From sport, Olympic and Commonwealth swimmer Alison Sheppard is a former pupil, and some 29 ex-High School students have represented Scotland at rugby union.

The Herald: Science lessons at Glasgow High School for Girls, circa 1894Science lessons at Glasgow High School for Girls, circa 1894 (Image: The High School of Glasgow)

Throughout the year, the fee-paying school’s fundraising 900 Campaign aims to double its Bursary Fund to £8m. Last year it supported 10% of the school’s senior School pupils, including 17 who received 100% fee remission.

As part of the celebrations, elements from the school’s long history will be placed in a time capsule, sealed and buried for future generations to discover.

The Herald: Rector of The High School of Glasgow, John O'NeillRector of The High School of Glasgow, John O’Neill (Image: The High School of Glasgow)

 

John O’Neill, Rector of The High School of Glasgow, said the anniversary is “a momentous year” which will see it strengthen and forge partnerships with other schools around the city and beyond.

“Whilst a 900 anniversary is a date to be rightly recognised and celebrated, we also take the view that anniversaries are not merely the marking of a date; they are, at heart, a celebration of the enduring threads that connect our past to the present, a recognition of the journey that has shaped us, and a hopeful gaze towards the future we are yet to weave,” he said.

https://www.highschoolofglasgow.co.uk/




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